A thousand reasons to resist technology

Citizen groups who oppose the installation of 5G antennas or the installation of Amazon logistics centers ; neighbors who meet to refuse the installation of meters smart » Linky in their building ; farmers who point to the ravages of machinery and reject connected agriculture ; teachers who denounce the blind recourse to educational technologies » who cut them off from their students ; Pôle emploi employees who see their job disappear, replaced by algorithms ; engineers who realize that their profession is contributing to the aggravation of the ecological crisis and decide to slam the door with a bang: something is happening. Men and women, whose daily lives have been turned upside down by the deployment of digital technology, are wondering about the meaning of a progress that everywhere destroys human ties, undermines living together, degrades working conditions and the environment, and does not serve ultimately than the quest for profits of the few.

Data centers are energy vampires ”: protest in Ireland, which is home to multiple data centers that cause power cuts. © Tudi Crequer / Reporterre

We went to meet these men and women. Urban and rural, young and old, long-time activists, experienced in ecological or political struggles, and neo-militants. Many became interested in the subject because they were personally affected by what is still described as progress ». A form of pragmatic technocriticism » which acts, in our opinion, of a democratization of the criticism of technologies which is no longer the prerogative of seasoned intellectuals and activists. Because technocriticism, to use the term coined by the engineer Jean-Pierre Dupuy in 1975, attests to a long history, made up of ebbs and flows, moments of opening and closing of technical controversies. As such, the past two decades have resonated, from our point of view, as a moment of astonishment in the face of the magnitude of the transformations we have experienced and the intensity of the technophile discourse.

An unprecedented acceleration of the computerization of the world that should not be called into question. The first iPhone was marketed in 2007. Today, 1.35 billion smartphones are sold per year, while the global fleet stands at more than 10 billion units. Smart city, smart agriculture, EdTech, CivicTech [1], autonomous cars… Everything has a vocation to be digitized because that would be the indisputable meaning of History. So would it be big step towards progress ». The solutionist wave engulfed everything in its path. Every problem must find its technological solution. Faced with the abyss, opt for salvation through innovation.

Technocriticism is back

But something is changing and that is the purpose of our book. Touch after touch, the complete digitization of the world reveals its true face and technocriticism is making a comeback, reactivated by the urgency of the environmental crisis. The mirage of green technologies » no longer appeals: the false promises put forward by the promoters of new technologies have been dismantled one by one. Digital already represents more than 4 % of global greenhouse gas emissions, a figure that doubles every eight years and will explode in the coming years. The digital, contrary to the discourse long held on its dematerialization », shines with the inflation of material infrastructure that it requires, from terminals (smartphones, tablets, computers, connected objects of all kinds) to cables that cross the oceans, satellites or data centers that are multiplying on the outskirts of cities and concrete countrisides. The gluttony of our smartphones in terms of resources – more than fifty-five different metals for their manufacture – leads us to come up against a short-term mineral barrier »without mentioning here the quantities of water necessary [2]. If technologies become more effective »the famous rebound effect [3] invites their greater use, and therefore an even greater consumption of energy and resources.

Read also: Guillaume Pitron: A mobile phone does not weigh 150 grams, but 150 kilos »

This observation infuses environmental struggles and many social movements today. The activists have passed the books of Philippe Bihouix or Guillaume Pitron, which warn of the voracity of digital ; they also read the surveys on the surveillance capitalism » Where attention economy », which glues us to our screens, in front of which we now spend a third of our waking time ; they shared the works of the historian François Jarrige, which recall the historical convergences between ecological movements and criticism of techniques. Awareness is spreading. Technology is not neutral, digital is not just another tool, it directs our uses and determines our way of life. Generalized digitization is a change of civilization, an anthropological upheaval.

The dissemination of these ideas, the consequence of crossing a threshold and of an ecological crisis that has become irrefutable, has given rise to demands. Like the Citizen’s Climate Convention, 42 % of French people do not want to see 5G deployed, and 77 % want to be more involved in technological choices. More than one in two French people say they are worried about new technologies. Those we have met plead for more sobriety, want to defend social ties, human contact, and intend to regain control of their existence, of which they feel dispossessed, and of their professions which have been emptied of their meaning, excessively Taylorized. Criticism of 5G or Linky meters thus quickly becomes a reflection on 5G and his world »like the slogans chanted in the past among anti-nuclear groups.

Fire at a relay antenna near Grenoble, May 17, 2020. © MaxPPP/Photo PQR/Le Dauphiné/Denis Masliah

So they chat with their friends, their neighbors, their mayor, their boss. They still come up against refusals or incomprehension, turn to justice, contribute to pay a lawyer who can plead their cause. Sometimes achieve success. And when the legal channels do not work or the arguments no longer seem sufficient, some decide to take the initiative to tackle the cause of their ills. They then dismantle Linky meters, burn 5G antennas, or resort to more sabotage. subtle »in the words of researcher Samuel Lamoureux, in disarming » electric scooters, deserting social networks or abandoning their smartphones. These techno-struggles take on multiple faces depending on the object they aim for and the territory in which they take place. But, little by little, collectives are converging, exchanging ideas and finding strength in numbers. And they feel a conviction that we share: at a time of ecological crisis, the depletion of raw materials and the deterioration of human ties, the sense of history » calls today to be resolutely technocritical.

Techno-struggles — Survey of those who resist technologyby Fabien Benoît and Nicolas Celnik, published by Seuil/Reporterre, September 2022, 240 p., 12 euros.

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